Kills or be Killed
"You wanna cuss and fight in the basement?" This question is being sung to you by a guy named Hotel. Not, I dunno, whassisname? Something like Hotel? but actually Ho-friggin'-tel, and he's one half of the new U.K. duo the Kills. Anyway, this Hotel character sounds a bit like one of the Reids from the Jesus and Mary Chain, only more aggressive. More cocky. Less fogged in. Next he asks if you'd like to fuck and fight in the basement. He doesn't really wait for an answer, as the song--the title track from their debut EP, Black Rooster (Dim Mak Records)--kinda explodes into a little tale that could be about interracial love and an absentee daddy-O. But maybe it's just about a cockfight that got raided by some bobbies. After that, he pretty much leaves the rest of the crooning to his cohort VV, a 23-year-old American woman who cleverly moved to London last year after she and Hotel's demo-trading reached a fever pitch.
Black Rooster is catchy in a "Hey, Royal Trux's Neil Hagerty and Jennifer Herrema are reunited and it feels so good" sorta way. Catchy in that "I quit art school and call myself Hotel now" sorta way. Catchy in that "American chick makes good in a trans-oceanic throwback duo" sorta way. A cynic might say it's a bit calculated.
But it works for the EP's first three tracks. That's 60 percent of the time--which, if applied to schoolwork, would make you a primo candidate for a tough time with the GED. But in rock, it gets you pretty damn close to the honor roll. It works well enough so that you'll have to steel yourself against all the usual suspects with their skinny ties and menthol breath who claim to have liked the band first. You will find record-store clerks armed with scissors and markers, positioning tagboard signs next to the EP that say, "If you love the Stripes and the Yeah x 3s, you'll dig this."
And this is working right now, simply because old is the new new. On the EP's third track, "Wait" (not a White Lion cover), when VV aches, "Tell me what you done yourself/I would like to know/Write it on the rocks and then/Tell me where to go," she sounds like Joan Jett in Hope Sandoval's clothing. It's a subtle, kicky reinterpretation of something warmly and vaguely familiar, like cutting the sleeves off a Steve Miller T-shirt or something, only not as ironic. Wait, maybe just a Magnolias T-shirt.
I wrote the previous three paragraphs as part of an elephant-size review over a month ago. I sent it in. Then the Kills came through town on their first tour, and I had to change what I wrote. I caught one of their two New York shows. The club was scarily (and justifiably) empty during the set by the Wharton Tiers Ensemble. I was wondering if anyone cared. By the time the Kills went on, though, maybe 40 people had shown up, eager to be rocked. Eager to say they saw the Kills and have a co-worker the next day say, "Who?"
Hotel proved to be a sprightly, pleasant little guy with one of those hospital haircuts. He looked pleased as punch to be on tour in the United States. I thought maybe I was stretching it when I suggested that VV sang a lot like Jennifer Herrema, but onstage, she copped Herrema's pose, too: the cigarette and the hair in the face, both used as quasi-defense mechanisms. It was pretty theatrical. She walked around between songs like she was the victim of a severe ice-cream headache. Was she a good singer, though? Yes. She kicked ass. Was Hotel any good on guitar? Yes, he's a real showman.
The thing that disappointed me was the drum machine. The beats were nice, and the Kills probably don't have enough money to pay a real drummer and haul that kinda gear around. But if you're doing a tough-ass show that threatens to go off the tracks at any minute, the drum machine gives you away. It's a goddamn leash.
The Kills are about half a block away from being the cool neighbor of the next big thing. I have to confess that I wanted them to be in the glossy magazine that I write for in my day job. I coveted a piece of their coolness. The Black Rooster EP wowed me that much, plus VV looked really good in jeans. But before the show, she told me that she didn't want the press. She didn't like my magazine. That the Kills were going to be very selective about what they do. The press agent who worked with her previously, presumably when VV was in the band Discount, had gotten her into all sorts of crappy magazines. That bummed me out.
So all I can say without sounding like a whiny schoolmarm is that you should probably go see them. I have a feeling it will be impossible to get a ticket next time they come through town.
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